Author of the Month

Name: Deon Meyer

First Novel: Dead Before Dying

Most Recent Book: 13 Hours

'...pulsing action, a beautiful setting and a very real set of characters.'

Some say Detective Benny Griessel is a legend. Others say he is nothing but a drunk.

Either way, he has stepped on too many toes over the years ever to reach the top of the promotion ladder. However, as Thirteen Hours opens he is working at staying sober in order to win back his estranged wife and kids, while mentoring the new generation of crime fighters - mixed race, Xhosa and Zulu.

Two crimes demand his attention; a prominent figure in the fledgling South African music industry is murdered and a young American backpacker disappears in Cape Town. The politicians panic. North America is a huge tourist market for the country and this is a situation they do not want to grow into an international news event.

Benny has just thirteen hours to save the girl, save his career, and uncover a conspiracy, which threatens the financial stability of the whole country.

Thirteen Hours opens with a young American girl running away from a group of men with guns. We soon find out that she witnessed the death of her best friend at the hands of these men and she knows if she doesn’t get to safety she will be next. From this rip-roaring start the action never lets up.

Meyer is genius at maintaining the pace at a breakneck speed whilst inserting just enough information about his characters and their world to make the action relevant and the characters totally believable. An excellent example of this is the young girl we see on the run.... Meyer’s portrayal of the character and her dangerous situation very quickly pulls you onside. Barely realising you are being manipulated by a master the reader forges an emotional connection to the young girl and cares a great deal whether or not she makes it to safety.

Griessel is a legend. Sure, the alcoholic detective is a well-worn device but Benny is such a well drawn character that we can forgive and overlook this. An attachment to alcohol aside, he’s a character with a conscience, a strong sense of purpose and an ability to make things happen. One could argue he needs the pull of an addiction or some other form of weakness or he would almost seem too good to be true. His depth is demonstrated by Meyer with carefully chosen, brief set-pieces where he tries to deal with his loved ones, whether that be by phone with his son or on email with his daughter. Hanging over all of this is his efforts to re-build his relationship with his wife. And, again, here the emotional content is strong while you can’t help but feel that despite his best efforts he is going to have to try even harder to make it all work.

The flavour running through the very human stories at the heart of this fine novel is unmistakably African. Meyer demonstrates his affection for his country while highlighting some of the issues that affect it as it works towards re-building, post-apartheid.

Thirteen Hours is a fascinating read that offers pulsing action, a beautiful setting and a very real set of characters. It’s one of those books you finish with regret and then immediately begin searching for more of the author’s work.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
Ah, if only I could lay my hands on the full recipe. The list of ingredients is daunting enough: Riveting, rollicking good yarn, edge-of-the-seat suspense, fascinating, three-dimensional characters, captivating setting, a plethora of credible-but-surprising twists and turns, a dash of humour, a splash of pathos, a measure of breaking new ground in the genre, written with skill, finesse and masterful language control ...

The method, the mixing, the stirring, the simmering is where the real mystery lies. (If you know of somebody who owns this latter part of the recipe – I’d kill to get my hands on it ...)
2) Now that the crime/thriller genre represents the largest section of fiction sold in the UK and Ireland, do you think we do enough to celebrate the quality and diversity of the writing?
I must admit that I have little knowledge of what is being done to celebrate the quality and diversity of writing in UK and Ireland. However, I am happy to report that crime/thriller fiction is enjoying a similar boom in South Africa, and much is being done to celebrate the writing. In addition to generous media coverage, and an avalanche of invitations to literary and arts festivals, several new crime/thriller literary prizes have been announced in the last year or two.
3) You write in Afrikaans and then have your work translated for the wider market. Is this an easier way for you to work or do you have a deeper purpose?
Yes, it is an easier way for me to work. I find the process of writing pretty difficult – especially the never-ending quest to find just the right word, the perfect pitch - and doing it in a second language would only exacerbate the problem. Having said that, I am proud to be able to make a small contribution to the development of literature in my mother tongue.
4) The main characters in your novels are all fully-fleshed, heroic and believable. Is there a template you work to or do they simply evolve as you work through the story?
Thank you. I spend a lot of time thinking about my main characters, often developing a back-story (which sometimes becomes part of the novel), and try to really to understand them psychologically. But they mostly evolve as the book progresses – perhaps inevitably, because they are constantly confronted by new experiences and dilemmas.
5) Can you remember the moment when you first decided you wanted to be a writer?
Thanks to the huge privilege of having had parents who loved books, my two brothers and I read voraciously from a fairly young age. I must have been about nine years old when the magic finally overwhelmed me, this incredible concept that there were actual people who told stories for a living, who had the ability and the urge and the opportunity to weave wonderful tales for the entertainment of others.

In that moment, I knew that I wanted to become one of them.
6) Your African backdrop becomes almost like an extra character. Was this by accident or by design?
Absolute accident. And unavoidable, I suppose. Once you place your characters in a specific setting, there will always be interaction and mutual influence.
7) What do you think drives a story best – plot or characters?
I’d like to believe it is a mixture of both, because ideally, plot and character should be so interwoven that the one can’t exist without the other.
8) In a dream scenario who would you like to direct and star in a film/TV adaptation of your book?
am delighted to be able to report that British director Roger Spottiswood is already attached to the film project, which is pretty much a dream scenario for me. And I’ve been told that actors like Keifer Sutherland, Liam Neeson, Viggo Mortensen and Sharlto Copley are being considered – geniuses all.
9) What is your favourite movie adaptation of all time of a crime/thriller novel?
Probably John le Carré’s ‘The Constant Gardner’.
10) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
I am in the fortunate position of having a whole bunch of favourites – just about any of the late Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels (Ten Plus One, Like Love and Doll comes to mind), or John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee books, Michael Connelly’s City of Bones, Report to the Commissioner by James Mills. I relish anything by John le Carré, Douglas Kennedy, Robert Harris, Lee Child, C.J. Box ... Isn’t it a wonderful world?